After much debate, Gov. Eric Holcomb signed a bill which allows parents and community members to request books be banned from school libraries that they deem “obscene” or “harmful to minors.”
State law already bans these materials from being accessed by children, but under Indiana House Bill 1447, schools will no longer be able to claim legal protection by using “educational purposes” as a reason for sharing those materials with minors.
In addition, the new law, signed on May 4, requires public and charter schools to post on their website a list of books in their libraries and create a procedure for people in the district to submit a request to remove material. School boards must review the request at the next public meeting and establish an appeal procedure if they disagree with the complaint.
According to Indiana Code, material that is “harmful to minors” contains nudity, sexual content or sado-masochistic abuse, appeals to the prurient interest in sex of minors, is offensive to standards in the adult community with respect to what is suitable for minors, and lacks “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value" for children.
A similar measure targeting school libraries was first introduced in Senate Bill 12, which died in the House earlier this session. Later, legislators attempted to add the same language to another bill, Senate Bill 380, which addresses high school graduation rates. The House Education Committee never voted on the amendment to SB 380 — a weakened version of the bill was signed by Holcomb on May 4.
The measure to ban “harmful” books from school libraries was abandoned until a last-minute change to HB 1447 in a conference committee, a move that was criticized for happening behind closed doors. On April 27, hours before the end of the 2023 legislative session, the House and Senate voted to approve the library provision added to HB 1447, which was originally a bill just about third-party surveys administered to students.
While proponents say the law will improve transparency between schools, libraries and community members and will protect children from inappropriate material, some people are concerned about censorship, saying a book shouldn’t be banned just because one parent may not want their child to read it.
According to the American Library Association, the year 2022 had a record number of attempted book bans, and most of the targeted books were about or written by people of color and members of the LGBTQ community.
“As we have seen across the country, when books are censored, it is mostly books by and about LGBTQ people, people of color, and other marginalized groups that are the first to be banned,” Katie Blair, American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana advocacy and public policy director, said in a statement. “Students have a right to learn about all types of people and histories. This bill will have a chilling effect on the availability of books for students to read and explore.”